Munro Madness

October 2020


The leaves are turning, the temperatures are dropping and the sun is rising slightly later each day.  And in one weeks time, the clocks will change, marking the end of British Summer Time.  Why do we still have this seasonal affair, I so wished we didn’t! 

Glen Shiel

As you may know there are Munro’s that can be achieved relatively easy, so by that I mean easily reached by car, pretty straight forward paths up and down, decent gradients and then there are others that you have to travel further afield to, that may take a day to walk to never mind climb and are then a challenge to climb.

Loch Carron

You can find all manner of terrain on Scotland’s 3000-footers, from thrilling amazing scrambling and knife edge ridges at one extreme, to hands in the pockets strolling at the other.  And of course it goes without saying a Munro walked in summer and in sunshine is a very different  outing to one walked in winter and in a white out.

Bearing all of that in mind, it means some of our longer epic journeys will have to be put on hold, or possibly undertaken in the dark, it has been known you know!!! So we decided in order to say farewell to British Summer Time we would squeeze in  another weekend adventure to give us slightly more daylight hours before the clocks move back, and we had a plan.

We were heading to Kintail famed for its classic mountain ridge walks, and more specifically we would be staying in Glen Shiel an area encircled by steep mountains.  I love this area, the landscape and the views are spectacular, you need time here to soak it all in as its such a beautiful place and what makes it simply perfect is its very remote…just the way we prefer! 

This 9 mile long valley features only one road, one hikers Inn and of course hiking trails with views of picturesque peaks & waterways.

Glen Shiel is a glen in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland. The glen runs  from south-east to north-west, from the Cluanie Inn at the western end of Loch Cluanie and the start of Glenmoriston to sea level at the village of Shiel Bridge and Loch Duich.

The north side of the glen is formed by the famous Five Sisters range, a true classic amongst ridgewalks and further along, not as scrambly but equally as beautiful the Brothers Ridge.  Opposite it is the South Glen Shiel Ridge with various Munros up for the taking. 

We were staying in The Cluanie Inn which has been serving the traveller for over 100 years.  Once known as “Rhiabuie”, The Cluanie Inn started in 1787 as an isolated staging post situated where drivers of old turned south for Tomdoun via Lochoyne built on instructions of MacDonnell of Glengarry.

In the 18th century, such inns were referred to as “Kinghouses”, as they were situated on the newly built Kings Highway.  The inns were set up with co-operation between the government and the landowner, and were built for both the construction crews and the local people.

By the 1750’s, Scotland was seen as England’s pastures, and the land around The Cluanie Inn became Highland “drover” country, filled with skilled men who moved hordes of cattle and sheep over the  Highlands landscapes .

There is so much history here…lying between Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye, The Cluanie Inn has seen many turbulent years including the Jacobite risings.

Further along the road from the Inn the “Bridge of the Spaniards” in Glen Shiel, a bloody battle was fought in 1719 between troops of England’s King George and the Jacobites, who were supported by Spanish troops who landed at Eilean Donan Castle.  It is believed that some Jacobites, after their subsequent surrender, hid at The Cluanie Inn but were eventually captured…I know…pretty unreal right…I’ll be checking under my bed tonight!

The Cluanie Inn appears like an ordinary dwelling that has stood strong through its past glories.  It’s rustic design reflects the regional identity of the Highlands.  We have passed by this so many times and have never once entered, tonight we would be entering and staying in this amazing place within the remote wilderness of the picturesque Glen Shiel. 

This weekend was simply about  enjoying the surrounding nature of vast open skies, rugged beauty, serenity and of course…long days hiking in the mountains.

This weekend we were on a bit of a mission to complete the Munros on the North side of the Glen we hoped to undertake the Brothers Ridge and the Five Sisters of Kintail in the two consecutive days we had here.

Plockton

Firstly we headed to Plockton.  This is described often as “The Jewel of the Highlands”, its a stunning picturesque village which overlooks Loch Carron. 

A row of neatly painted cottages hug the shoreline following the curve of the tiny harbour. 

You can even find palm trees in this Highland coastal town, which line the main street and to top it all the whole scene is framed by a landscape of islands, pine forests, heathers and the mountains of Wester Ross…it really does offer everything.

Plockton is best explored on foot so we had a relaxing walk around the village admiring its beauty and because it was low tide we even managed to walk across to the small Island. 

I love this place, its  simply idyllic, remote and it felt very peaceful.

Coral Beach

Brothers Ridge 

Saturday morning saw us rise early but due to the first breakfast sitting not being until 8am (bloody COVID) it meant we would be on the hills later than we hoped.  Breakfast serving was also very relaxed which meant things were slow paced and actually really nice…if you were not planning a full on day on the mountains…and we were planning a full on day on the mountains so slow paced and relaxed were not on our schedule!  Furthermore, we then had to undertake a short drive and find somewhere to ditch the car before beginning our walk and time was ticking on. 

Today we were hoping to complete the three Munros of Sgurr a Bhealaich Dheirg, Saileag and Aonach Meadhoin, often collectively known as the Brothers of Kintail. This was meant to be a very fine ridgewalk and we had read that in no way were these mountains overshadowed by their more famous siblings – the Five Sisters of Kintail which we hoped to undertake on the Sunday.

We eventually began our ascent which straight away was steep with no warm up, no gentle walk in, it was also very wet and extremely muddy…like ankle deep muddy…I was not particularly impressed with this today.   Due to the terrain and the steepness I felt like the whole way up I basically was either looking at my feet  or the side of the mountain due to my face being stuck in it due to its steepness!  We eventually got off the muddy, wet part of the mountain and continued to head directly up to the bealach without any let up. 

The positive of a very steep up means it gets you up fast…thats probably the only positive!  From the bealach, the route headed east (the Five Sisters ridge was to the west) and it began to flatten out before more of a steady up and before we knew it we had reached the summit of our first Munro,  Saileag.

The views from the summit came and went and we saw numerous mountain tops and deep glens as the cloud hovered low around us.

From here we undertook a pretty nice ridge walk which involved some short scrambly sections which I always enjoy as it sometimes breaks up the walk and then we eventually reached Munro 2, Sgurr a Bhealaich Dheirg.

The third Munro was further along the ridge. 

We followed a relatively easy down and then another short climb until we reached Munro 3, Aonach Meadhoin.

We then had to climb another two smaller summits, first Sgurr an Fhurail (987m) and another (unnamed) top before our final proper descent to complete our hike.

The descent down was pretty boggy and once we reached lower grounds we were in proper bog land…it got to the stage whereby we just had to go for it, we tried to move quickly and lightly to just get through it…we were wet, we were muddy and it was getting dark, eventually the Cluanie Inn came into sight and all was forgotten…we were happy.

The mountains had been so noisy today and as we hiked battles of all kinds were going on around us…all day long (and night!!). Yes, it was rutting season on these hills and stags pumped up with testosterone, could be heard calling to the females for miles and miles on end.

Video Footage of The Brothers Ridge https://youtu.be/-3QqK0SmkRA

Five Sisters of Kintail

Next morning we were off to undertake The Five Sisters which is a classic ridgewalk taking in three Munro’s, a Munro Top and a Corbet. This hike would involve a long and wonderful days excursion with magnificent views on a clear day….today we had low atmospheric cloud…but sometimes this adds to the beauty.

The same breakfast routine took place once again!!!

The “Five Sisters” of Kintail include Sgurr nan Spainteach (top), Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (Munro), Sgurr na Carnach (Munro), Sgurr Fhuaran (Munro), Sgurr nan Saighead (top). These “Sisters” are one of the most famous massifs in Scotland and like many other “sisters” around the world, are very photogenic and identical. They also belong to the tallest Munros in size in the Northern Highlands.

We started up on the same path as yesterday. Knowing that we had to undertake this very same , very steep, very wet and very muddy ascent as yesterday was a thought…and I was not looking forward to it…can you tell? However, I told myself that it was worth the effort as once on top it was a very different kind of hike and I had enjoyed yesterdays hike so much. So we began our climb once again, as one can expect from such a mountain that sits at sea level, the ridge walk cumulates a significant total ascent and descent…today however felt much better than yesterday, its amazing how a different mindset can affect things!

Once at the bealach, today we were turning left. From here we could vaguely see where our ridge walk was heading and we saw the highest of the Five Sisters in the distance.

Firslty though we had to climb along this long and undulating ridge to get to the top of Sgurr nan Spainteach (the peak of the Spaniards). Once at the top of this we had a rocky descent, and just before the bealach we had to do another short rock scramble to descend.

The ‘path’ then headed steeply up and up and up some more…it felt like quite a bit of up before we eventually reached the massive summit cairn of Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, the first Munro of the day. The views came and went.

From here we continued along the ridge, it was a beautiful ridge walk, less defined than the Brothers Ridge yesterday with more steepness, roughness and lots more boulders and scrambling. It was more temperamental, edgy and exposed than the ‘Brothers’ but then again that can be said about a lot of ‘Sisters’ I guess! We continued down to the Bealach na Craoibhe.

The next Munro we were heading to was Sgurr na Carnach, it was pretty rough going due to the terrain and eventually the ‘path’ winded up the stony slopes taking us to the top.

From here we descended to the Bealach na Carnach, with a little easy rocky scrambling and beyond this we began our ascent to Sgurr Fhuaran again it was steep and bouldery.

Sgurr Fhuaran is the highest and central of the Five Sisters at 1067 metres, and was our third and final Munro of the day.

And things began to get interesting right at this point. We had climbed up above the clouds into blue skies, the sun shone and temperatures increased.

Although we could not really see clear views as such it felt special to be surrounded by cloud just below our feet.

Then we noticed something spectacular….have you ever witnessed a fog bow?

A Fog Bow 💙

A fog bow, which is sometimes called a white rainbow (I know this because I googled it I was that excited) is a similar phenomenon to a rainbow but as its name suggests it appears as a bow in fog rather than in rain.

Well I got to witness my first real fog bow right here, and it was very special and very beautiful…and with all of this going on it meant that even although we were on a schedule as this was a long days hike and it gets dark earlier we stayed here for some time taking it all in whilst trying to capture on camera what our eyes were witnessing but it never ever comes out the way you see it with the naked eye…but we try!

Rainbows hold a special meaning to me and I like to imagine they are messages from somewhere further afield…most days when I’m on the mountains at some point or another or on my travels in general a rainbow appears and I smile…today I smiled more so than others!

We eventually pulled ourselves away from what was going on as we needed to keep moving we had a couple of options.

The west ridge of Sgurr Fhuaran is the first reasonable descent route to Glen Shiel which gives a very long and fairly steep route down to the valley, a shorter and more direct route. Many walkers opt to make this their descent choice. However, being the purists that we are we decided to continue on the ridge walk to reach the Bealach Buidhe.

The next peak on the ridge was Sgurr nan Saighead which is not a Munro but a Munro Top. It was worth the effort to continue along the ridge as views had began to open up and we saw the steep peak of Beinn Bhuidhe appearing ahead.

We quickly reached Beinn Bhuidhe, scrambled to the top and then scrambled down its rocky ridge and on to the next bealach to ascend the fifth sister, Sgurr na Moraich. From here we then returned to the bealach and descended to the start of the path down the north bank of the Allt a Chruinn.

By this time it was starting to feel like darkness was creeping in and we had around 45 minutes maximum to at least try and get off the steep part of this mountain on to ‘flatter’ ground. So we picked up speed.

The route down was once again steep and wet which slowed the pace but we were determined to try and make as much headway as we could. Eventually we could see a path of some sort and we managed to reach it before darkness engulfed us which was a slight relief then it was head torches on all the way out. By this time the path had improved slightly, passing a waterfall and we followed a river to the left of us. The stream fell into a gorge and we continued to slowly descend the hillside, we still had a long way to go. All around us the stags continued to bellow as we walked…hopefully we would not walk into them as at this time of year they can be aggressive! Walking in darkness off the mountain with headtorches on felt nice and we progressed relatively quickly until eventually we reached Allt a’chruinn village, we were almost back at the car.

This had been two pretty amazing long days on the hills with lots of incline especially on the ‘Five Sisters’. But we were rewarded with amazingly long hiking days ticking off another 6 Munros over the weekend, not too shabby a result! And best of all over the two days on these mountains we met not another soul – how often do you get that opportunity – now that’s what I would call socially isolating and it was simply perfect.

Video Footage of The Five Sisters of Kintail – https://youtu.be/NuEFp0mnk6M

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